Dramaturgical Analysis, Theatre

on dramaturgy, the new, the inexpressible and the now

For this post I’ll be wearing my dramaturge hat. It is rather fetching and involves feathers.

This year I am doing lists. I have a list of plays I’ve read, shows I’ve seen, shows I’ve worked on, applications I’ve put in, blogs I’ve written, days I’ve spent in the rehearsal room (not enough), books I’ve read, times I’ve cried, times I’ve seen the doctor, times I’ve eaten ice-cream, times I’ve had sex, times I’ve slept without chemical assistance. Look, we’re only three months in but so far the message I’m getting from these lists is I spend more time on theatre than anything else. As of today I’ve seen twenty-seven shows this year and by the end of the week I will be up to thirty-one.

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The Hayloft Project’s ‘Arden v Arden’ in rehearsal. Photo: Sarah Walker

I’ve written before about how I try to go into every show as the most excited person in the room and how I try to find something in every show that I could not have done myself. I love loving theatre and this carries over into my approach to reading and assessing scripts. Before picking up a new script I take a moment to get excited. Sometimes it takes work. When you’ve already read four scripts that day, it is a case of deliberately re-setting to ensure that the playwright isn’t going to be disadvantaged by the fact that you picked up their script at 4.30pm. I aim to approach every new script with the same passion, enthusiasm and intellectual vigour I bring into the theatre. I try to look at scripts free of personal taste or my own stylistic preferences.

As part of an application last week I had to write the three key things I look for when assessing new scripts. Because I’m time-poor right now (teching three shows at MICF in the next two days), I thought I’d share that section of my application with y’all. This is by no means a definitive list but these are the three things that were on my mind last week. I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on what you look for in a script.

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MKA’s development of Izzy Roberts-Orr’s ‘Twins’. Photo: Sarah Walker

  1. I look for originality in both form and content. Last year there was one day on which I seemed to read the same story again and again. It was the story of adult children returning home to care for a sick or dying parent. So many playwrights have told this story over the years because it is something that will happen to almost every family. I think it is particularly heartfelt story in Australia because so many of us move away from our hometown but age and death draws us all back in the end. I understand why it bears telling again and so I looked for the originality in the form: what made this universal story intimate and precious. What sets it apart from every other telling. I love finding a play that addresses an issue from an angle that would never have occurred to me. I love being surprised. Provided the playwright is surprising me in with either content or form I am a happy camper.
  1. I look to see that the playwright understands their medium. I want to see why this story should be staged rather than read and I want to see that the playwright has left room for staging and the actor’s voice within their script; that there is theatrical imagery, a good understanding of dialogue and even a sense that the play is incomplete in this form. I’ve found that often the scripts that read the best on the page are a bit dull on stage because space wasn’t left for the director’s imagination. I think it should feel a little wrong as text because that is not the way the playwright intended their work to be experienced. This is something that can only be understood by someone who truly understands the medium they are writing for. Likewise, theatrical dialogue is a skill only acquired by those immersed in theatre. So I look for a sense of theatre, of imagery, of the actor’s voice, of space for collaboration and that the script wants more from me.
  1. I want it to feel of this moment in time. This does not mean that I am biased against plays set twenty, thirty or one hundred years ago but I do want the writer to understand where theatre is at right now. There are plays written hundreds of years ago that still speak to us today and plays written five years ago that feel like their moment has passed. This is a dangerous sentiment because it can cross into the realms of personal taste but I try to look for scripts that would speak to a contemporary audience, both stylistically and thematically.

So they are my three points (at the moment). I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you look for when read scripts either as a director, dramaturge, actor or designer. Maybe one day I’ll write a similar post wearing my director hat.

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A rehearsed reading of ‘Under Milk Wood’ at Pony Fish Island, 2011. Photo: Sarah Walker

I always finish writing something like this and go ‘how the fuck can I find photos for this? Then I wander around Sarah’s site and wonder why I bother with words. Her photos can be found and should be stalked here. 

Thank you to Jem Splitter and David Lamb for proof-reading. 

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